Monday, April 5, 2010

A Surprise Garden Birthday Dinner


First of all, I want to wish everybody a Happy Easter! No, this post is not anything about Easter at all although seeing many blogs posted their cute little Easter cakes and eggs made me so itchy to make one of those too, but as time would have it, I could only do so much :).

It feels like the sunshine that appeared for a week or two before was just a quick dream or a short teaser. I woke up one morning only to find that Winter is definitely back again. Gloomy days, rains, and cold winds are what we have been seeing for the last week and a half. I took out and wore my wool jacket again today in sadness as it was really cold here in San Jose. I drove home Sunday afternoon while it's raining hard listening to Bryan Adams singing in the radio and followed by "Pocketful of Sunshine" by Natasha Bedingfield. Yes, a pocketful of sunshine is what I need. I came home and hurried to bed to find warmth and comfort under a thick blanket and took a nap for two whole hours, it was certainly the perfect weather for nap and it felt good.

A few weeks ago, my sister in law had the idea of celebrating her husband's (a.k.a my brother) birthday in their backyard with close friends.

"Lets pimp the backyard and have a sit-down dinner outside!", she said.

She had been dying to use her backyard for outdoor dinner since forever and I guess this is the perfect time for her to finally use it. Their backyard is not big, it's small and long, had a jacuzzi on one end and that's it. There's a deck in the middle of the yard which is perfect to place a long table for dinner. After probably 2-3 weeks of occasional planning, I was in charge of the food (from appetizer to dessert) while she was in charge of the decoration. She was definitely in her forte in the decoration department, she knows what she wanted it to look like.



It was somewhat challenging to keep this dinner as a surprise. Well, it was a little strange that suddenly there was a big long table appeared at their house and some decorations as well but fortunately, J, the wife (a.k.a my sister in law) was quick enough to think of some excuses to distract his attention. He even helped carrying the table inside and finding things here and there at their house without even a slight suspicion :D. We threw him (and another friend) a birthday dinner before (see the previous post), so he shouldn't be expecting anything else followed after that, although I don't know what's going through his mind when his wife was busy cleaning up their backyard in the morning despite the fact that she's pregnant and it was cold outside :), but it was all worth-it because it turned out to be so beautiful!

Planning the menu was a little hard for me, there were too many things going on at the same time (the previous birthday cake was one of them) that I only had a very limited time to plan, shop and actually make it, I was definitely on a roll, using my time as effective as possible to get a lot of things done. The entree was decided on the morning of the D-day, the appetizer was decided while we're shopping for ingredients at a grocery store on the same day, the dessert was ready in the morning too and wasn't decided until the day before. I really hoped I had more time to make a better one, but I was forced to settle down by something simpler due to time constraint.


Menu:
Appetizer: Bacon-wrapped asparagus spears; warm french bread with olive oil-balsamic-herb dipping sauce
Entree: Cajun Pasta with chicken and teriyaki meatball
Dessert: Mango panna cotta verrine and chocolate-mango macaron
Drink: Fruit punch (made using guava-passion fruit-orange concentrate and lemon-lime soda)

We had about a few hour window when he was out doing something and came back. He was told that they were going to have a nice dinner outside but guess what he found at home? He was certainly surprised (in a good way)! The only downfall to the party was the weather, it was cooollddd..... but we can't complain afterall as for more than a week, it was the only day that wasn't raining.


The dessert corner

I chose mango panna cotta verrine because it's simple to make, I've made it before in both mango and strawberries (meaning, no experiment needed) and mango happens to be the birthday boy's favorite fruit (it runs in the family :D). For this reason too, I used this opportunity to try out Boiron mango puree that I had been hearing so much. I've always used Alphonso mango pulp for all my mango dessert and I had no complain at all, but I can't help to try this line of mango puree and see if the hype is true. To my surprise, when I opened the package, the smell and the color was almost exactly the same as the Alphonso mango pulp I've been using. It was actually a relief, I was afraid that I would like this puree so much (more than the pulp) that I would have to order online everytime I want to use it, silly me. Oh and I used creme fraiche this time instead of yogurt to add to the panna cotta. It wasn't planned really, the yogurt I was about to buy only comes in a big tub. Despite being cheap anyway, I would then have to use up the rest of it, I can't just throw it away, then that's when I spotted the creme fraiche. I've always wanted to try using it, I know it tastes like yogurt and a lot more expensive but I just had to satisfy my curiosity and plus, it was the perfect amount that I need, so no leftover I need to worry about :).

The macaron flavor combination was inspired by Vi at L'Atelier Vi. It was love at the first sight when I saw her post a while back, and since mango was the theme of the dessert, this fits really well. I used Pierre Herme's recipe that I had posted before and added cocoa powder to it. The end result wasn't as dark as I would have expected. I made Italian Meringue buttercream that I flavored with mango puree. While it was delicious on its own, however I could barely taste the mango flavor combined with the chocolate macaron. I definitely need to increase the amount of the puree next time, I'm still curious with this combination that I'm intrigued to make a cake with this two combination in the future, making sure that the chocolate won't overpower the mango.



Busy arranging before the birthday boy comes

Back to the dinner party, everyone helped making the food and the decoration and I could really say that we're all had a wonderful time together. J wanted to have a yellow-green-orange-white theme and I guess we achieved the theme without looking too colorful and still look elegant. The calla lilies were picked from my other brother's garden and it fits perfectly to the party. Calla lily is one of my favorite flower for its white and green color and especially the elegance that it has.

It was a very tiring day but I was so glad that it was a success! It was definitely different than the usual potluck or the get-together we usually have. I have everybody to thank for, for this dinner, so thank you guys for making it happen!


Surprise!!!

Happy Ending :)

Mango Panna Cotta Verrine
inspired by Cannelle et Vanille

Yogurt Panna Cotta:
200g heavy cream
45g sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
3/4 tsp. gelatin powder
1 tbs. water
100g whole milk plain yogurt (I used creme fraiche)

Combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla bean in a saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it bloom. Melt it in a microwave for about 7 seconds to melt it. Once the cream comes to a boil, add the melted gelatin, stir and remove from the heat. Let cool in an icebath, stirring occasionally until it comes to room temperature. Add the yogurt or cream fraiche and mix well. Pour into the prepared glasses and refrigerate until set.

Mango Mousse:
150g mango puree
20g sugar (adjust depending on the sweetness of your puree)
1.5 tsp. gelatin powder
1 tbs. water
250g heavy cream, whipped to soft peak

Bring half of the mango puree and sugar to a gentle boil, add the melted gelatin (same method as above), add the rest of the puree and cool in an icebath. Fold in the heavy cream. Pipe (or use spoon) the mousse on top of the panna cotta and refrigerate.

Mango Jelly:
100g mango puree
15g sugar (adjust depending on the sweetness of your puree)
1/2 tsp. gelatin
1/2 Tbs. water

Boil the mango puree and sugar together, add the melted gelatin (see method above). Let cool in an icebath and spoon it on top of the mango mousse.

I double this recipe to make about 12-5.5oz glasses in the picture above. If you have fresh mango, you can put mango cubes inside the glasses too to provide textural balance. Unfortunately, mango wasn't quite in season yet here.

Chocolate Macaron:
use recipe here and add 20g cocoa powder to the dry mixture.

2 comments:

Brisbane Baker said...

Wow what a beautiful setting for a party!

I love your mango panna cotta verrine.. ahh! Looks so tasty!

www.brisbanebaker.blogspot.com

whisk-kid said...

Aw, what a nice surprise! It's all so beautiful :D